Hip-hop entrepreneur Lance Rivera's follow-up to the unappetizing COOKOUT (2004) is an improvement to the degree that it fails to pander to every stereotype of African-Americans acting badly. But for a family-friendly holiday comedy, it's still coarse, formulaic and occasionally just plain weird.
Christmas is fast approaching, and the film's smiling narrator (producer Queen Latifah, who cowrote and appears in THE COOKOUT) is delighted, unlike the sour, misanthropic Bah Humbug (Terrence Howard), who misses no opportunity to spread a little holiday drear. The narrator has her eye on two lovely, lonely people: flat-broke singer-songwriter Benjamin (Morris Chestnut) who's playing Santa at the Jersey Gardens Mall for rent money but still gives his last $20 to a shivering homeless woman, and stay-at-home mom Nancy (Gabrielle Union). She lives in a mansion, courtesy of her ex, rap impresario J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy), but between raising John-John (Malik Hammond), Mikey (Jeremy Gumbs), and Emily (Khail Bryant) and going to court with Jizzy, whose interest in his kids extends no further than the next photo op, she's emotionally exhausted. Benjamin's best friend, Jamal (Faizon Love), and Nancy's loyal gal-pals Robin (Jill Marie Jones) and Brenda (Rachel True) worry about their friends, but little Emily does something about it. While waiting on line to see Santa, Emily overhears Nancy wishing a nice man would pay her a compliment. Emily dutifully charms Santa — who is, of course, Benjamin — by asking him to make her mommy smile for Christmas, complete with instructions. Mom is foxy, but Benjamin decides that using such inside information would conflict with the Santa code of ethics. Fate, helped by Robin, Brenda and the twinkly narrator, nonetheless brings Nancy and Benjamin together and romance blossoms while Jizzy gets busy writing ditties like "I Saw Mommy Capping Santa Claus" for his upcoming Christmas album. Ridiculous complications eventually ensue en route to the requisite feel-good ending.
Billed as the "first African-American ensemble comedy for the Christmas season," as though THIS CHRISTMAS (which opened a month before PERFECT HOLIDAY), Ice Cube's irreverent FRIDAY AFTER NEXT (2002) and the 1996 Denzel Washington/Whitney Houston remake THE PREACHER'S WIFE had never happened, Rivera's film mixes rehashed inspirational-film cliches and urban humor, to no good effect. And you have to wonder what Howard did to wind up in a part that requires him to caper around in a series of bizarre get-ups: The nadir finds him dressed as a toddler and wailing that he needs to make dookie. Ugh. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh